Cuisine meets art in Fouquet’s menu inspired by the Louvre’s Paper Stories exhibition

Fouquet’s, the French institution that has been serving customers on the corner of Champs-Elysées and Avenue George V, Paris, since 1899, opened an outlet in Louvre Abu Dhabi in February 2020.

Like its big sister, the Abu Dhabi branch is run by chef Pierre Gagnaire. As part of the museum’s latest exhibition, Stories of Paper, the restaurant’s executive chef, Balveer Balkissoon, conceptualized a menu designed to enhance the visitor experience.

What to expect and where to sit

There is a romantic atmosphere to this restaurant, not least because it sits under the spectacular perforated dome of the Louvre Abu Dhabi. The color scheme is minimalist, with off-white rugs and glossy white walls with a black stripe painted across them. The red seats and curtains add a touch of sophistication and recall the famous awnings of the Parisian room.

There are elaborate and ornate chandeliers and tables tucked into little nooks for a cozy and private setting. Tables in the middle of the space provide a brighter feel and small table lamps add atmosphere and character. Weather permitting, the terrace, with a view of the dome and the water, is a great spot.

The menu

The Paper Stories three-course menu aims to describe how material can be represented and symbolized in food. The appetizer – green asparagus with lemon whipped cream, puffed black rice paper and blood orange reduction – tastes as light as paper. The delicate asparagus has just the right amount of bite, while the whipped cream is airy with a balanced flavor that delivers just a hint of lemon.

The dish evokes a piece that explores the use of paper to make traditional clothing in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Sheets of material were twisted to create cords that were woven into clothes, shoes, hats and other accessories in a technique called noyeokgae. The individual cords remind me of asparagus tips, and if those cords were deconstructed, you would be left with the light flakes of puffed black rice scattered across the top of the dish.

The main course is a pigeon pastilla. It’s wrapped in lighter-than-paper filo sheets and served with vibrant spring vegetables and delicious pigeon jus. The thin golden crust of each layer of pie is topped with a delicate sheet of edible rice paper, adorned with the museum’s logo.

The dessert is Fouquet’s signature vanilla millefeuille, with its seemingly endless layers of golden pastry.

Fouquet's millefeuille dessert is reminiscent of the work

The thick and creamy vanilla pastry cream stuffed between these many sheets of caramelized puff pastry is a memorable end to this culinary journey. It evokes images of Katagami Butterfly masterpieces.

It is made of “mulberry fiber paper impregnated with persimmon juice, cut and laid on a wire weft”. These stencils were used to dye and imprint designs on fabric and the finely cut butterflies remind me of the delicate and painstaking process of making the multitude of layers of yarrow. The flakes created as I bite into the dessert make me think of all those butterflies fluttering towards me.

Standout dish

The pigeon lozenge is reminiscent of 'Blind Time IV (Drawing with Davidson)', left, by Robert Morris and 'Dictionary' by Hassan Sharif, both on display at Louvre Abu Dhabi.  Photo: Pawan Singh/The National

The main dish of pigeon pastilla is distinguished by the complexity and depth of flavor of the dish. Asian flavors abound in this dish, perhaps in honor of paper’s Chinese origins – we learn that paper has been used in China since at least the 2nd century BC.

There is a depth of flavor in this dish that is reminiscent of two works in the exhibition. The simmered meat and the sauce remind me of the Blind Time IV (Drawing with Davidson) artwork by Robert Morris. The piece was completed in less than 15 seconds while the artist was blindfolded.

There is a lot to unpack in the work. It’s multi-layered, steeped in metaphor, and even the materials used – powdered graphite and oil – are deep and rich. The result is quite unexpected; looking at the work, one could not tell that it was done in such a short time or without sight.

Balkissoon says the whole idea of ​​this menu is to evoke the unexpected. He tells me that to create the surprising flavors of this dish, raisins and corn are used in the sauce to balance out the strong taste of the meat.

Shreds of refreshing, light seasonal vegetables including carrots, white asparagus and fresh herbs garnish the dish, and the feel of these in your mouth is like a handful of shredded paper falling from a great height. This part of the meal reminds me of the almost four meter high installation by Emirati artist Hassan Sharif Dictionary.

The artwork comprises what must be thousands of dictionary pages glued to pieces of rope draped in a conical structure resembling a shaggy Christmas tree. Pages and words falling on top of each other, that’s what I think about as these vegetables tumble as I chew on them.

If you’re not a huge fan of game birds, the slices of pigeon breast that garnish the dish might not be to your liking, but the dark meat stew and gravy are powerful.

A conversation with the chef

Mauritian executive chef Balkissoon has worked in the kitchens for 22 years, 12 of them in the United Arab Emirates. He started his career in large resorts – Yas Viceroy, Sheraton and Movenpick. He has worked at Fouquet’s for two and a half years, accompanying it when it was launched. This menu, he says, was interesting to conceptualize.

“When we think of paper, we think of it as thin, flaky and crisp; thin layers of leaves, and we had to see how we could represent paper in food.

“Having an exhibition with paper is something unique, so we also used different uncommon products,” he explains.

“Pigeon is rare and not usually served here. And having blood orange cream as a starter and crispy rice on top is also very different.

Overall, though, he says, the dishes stay true to the place’s Parisian roots. “The card represents the original Fouquet’s. We have kept the typical French taste, keeping in touch with our concept,” he says.

“We work with seasonal products, but under the direction of chef Pierre Gagnaire, what I have learned is to give fair value to the fresh product you use. Don’t try to work with it too much, let people taste the real taste of the products.

And that, this menu certainly does.

Prices and contact details

The Stories of Paper menu costs 290 Dh per person and is available at Fouquet’s, Louvre Abu Dhabi, Saadiyat Island, until July 24.

This review was conducted at the invitation of the restaurant

Updated: June 29, 2022, 06:09

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About Debra D. Johnson

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